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Interns unimpressed with photocopying and tea-making duties

22 Aug 2017 By Emily Burt

Quality internships must work for both sides – yet most believe businesses are the main beneficiaries

The vast majority of interns believe their most recent internship was more useful to the company than it was to them, new research has found.

More than half (53 per cent) of the 18 to 30-year-olds surveyed by Lloyds Banking Group said they spent the majority of their internship completing menial tasks such as printing or photocopying documents, while more than a third (33 per cent) said the majority of their day was spent making tea or picking up lunch for colleagues. Overall, 83 per cent felt their employer was the main beneficiary.

The study also suggested that poor experiences of internships could be hurting the confidence of young people at the start of their careers. A quarter (25 per cent) of respondents said their internships had either no impact or a negative impact on their future career prospects, while only three in 10 (32 per cent) felt their internship had boosted their employability.

“Best practice means giving an intern every opportunity to demonstrate what skills and experience they have,” Sarah Hathaway, chief membership officer at the Association of Graduate Recruiters, told People Management. “This can be applied at every stage of the process, from being clear about the nature of the role at the outset, to running a formal recruitment process and induction, ensuring a good management process is in place throughout that period of time and having regular meetings and checking performance.” 

David Rowsell, head of education and employability programmes for Lloyds Banking Group, added: “This research highlights how important it is to tailor internships to meet young people’s needs, so they can use the experience to strengthen their skills, abilities and ultimately boost their employability.”

Internships have mushroomed in popularity in recent years: around 11,000 are advertised annually, but the real number has been estimated at as much as 70,000. The IPPR, which says the number of opportunities has risen by 50 per cent since 2010, believes around one in five are unpaid, which has led to criticism from politicians and pressure groups. There are also concerns over the detrimental impact on social mobility of an over-reliance on internships, particularly in highly competitive professions.

But internships can also pay dividends, as Southern Rail proved in July, when a 15-year-old social media intern called Eddie revamped the much-maligned railway franchise’s reputation in less than 24 hours by taking control of its Twitter account.

“Employers are very focused on the previous experiences of work; if you go back 20 years, there were Saturday jobs young people could take on at 16 – roles that aren’t available now,” Hathaway said. “Supplementing these jobs is more important than ever, but there has to be a benefit on both sides. Interns must choose their internship carefully, and be given a good chance to explore if they want to move into that kind of career. Some may walk away saying ‘that’s not for me’ – but this is still a positive outcome.”

A separate study, published today by recruiter Robert Half, revealed that workplace dissatisfaction is not limited to summer internships – while 8 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds said they were unhappy in their jobs, one in four (25 per cent) 35 to 54-year-olds said they felt undervalued at work.

Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at Robert Half UK, said organisations should not ignore older workers’ valuable experience. “Businesses need to take the time to invest in their staff at all levels,” he said. “Simple things like conducting regular performance reviews, offering new opportunities for learning and setting ambitious career goals are all steps that can ensure more tenured workers feel appreciated and that career goals don’t become static.”

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